Swimming the Thames: Swimming Down an English River Doesn't Sound like the Most Exhilarating Experience for a Seasoned Explorer. but at Frog's-Eye Level, Says Alastair Humphreys, the Thames Is a Wild, Beautiful and Adventurous Place

By Humphreys, Alastair | Geographical, October 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Swimming the Thames: Swimming Down an English River Doesn't Sound like the Most Exhilarating Experience for a Seasoned Explorer. but at Frog's-Eye Level, Says Alastair Humphreys, the Thames Is a Wild, Beautiful and Adventurous Place


Humphreys, Alastair, Geographical


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It was all going so well. The sun had been shining for two days. The river sparkled beautifully. The reeds in the shallows swayed slowly in the gentle current. My film footage was going to be great.

I had put a great deal of thought and effort into carefully filming every aspect of my swim down the river, and I was feeling very pleased with myself. And then, in a moment of absent-mindedness, I let go of the camera. It sank, along with my precious footage and my heart. At that moment I learned an important lesson for aquatic expeditions: it's irrelevant how good your camera is, or how clever your camera work, if you don't ensure that all of your equipment floats or is securely attached.

SHORT BUT SWEET

I dedicated 2011 to seeking out short yet rewarding journeys close to home, which I dubbed 'microadventures'. I documented them online and produced a series of very short films to promote the idea of snatching small adventures in whatever time and location is available to you (as opposed to using a lack of time and an uninspiring environment as an excuse to do nothing). I wanted to encourage people who've never slept outdoors or explored a national park to try something new.

When it came to my swimming microadventure, I chose the Thames. Few people think of it as a beautiful river or, indeed, one suitable for a swimming journey. But I had a hunch that swimming along a section of the Thames--rather than walking along its banks or paddling it--would offer a different perspective. I was right.

At frog's-eye level, the Thames feels wild, beautiful and adventurous. It was exciting and unusual to undertake a journey, even this tiny one, by swimming. Add to this the fact that so little equipment, money and planning are required and I'm surprised that river-swimming journeys aren't more common.

Some gear, however, is essential. A wetsuit is recommended if you're going to spend all day immersed in a river, even if you plan your journey to coincide with the height of the British summer. Although some hardcore swimmers eschew wetsuits, preferring to swim only in trunks, goggles and cap, mere mortals such as me would freeze if we swam for a whole day dressed like that.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Wetsuits come in many shapes and sizes. I rummaged around in my attic for my old, full-length model. It was 20 years old, looked ridiculous and was too thick and constricting for long-distance swimming. But part of the point of microadventures is to make do with what you already have, rather than allowing the expense of buying hi-tech gear to become prohibitive. Besides, I'm not a particularly good swimmer, so the thickness of the wetsuit didn't inhibit my progress. If you're serious about river swims or are planning a long swim, then a modern triathlon wetsuit designed specifically for swimming will be the most important piece of equipment in which you invest.

AQUATIC ESSENTIALS

I took good-quality, snug-fitting goggles with me, even though the water was opaque with run-off following a few days of heavy rain. In addition. I chose to swim breaststroke, the 'naturalist's stroke', according to the late Roger Deakin. the godfather of wild swimming. These two factors meant that I barely used my goggles, although I still recommend them for any swimming expedition.

I didn't wear a swimming hat (for the good reason that I don't own one) but a cap is recommended for open-water swimming. As well as helping to keep you warm, a brightly coloured hat also makes you more visible to other users of the water, especially motorboat owners.

If you're intent on swimming a long distance along a consistently deep river, you may want to wear fins as they significantly increase efficiency. But because I expected my stretch of river to be shallow in parts, and because I knew I would need to leave the river on a regular basis in order to film, I decided to wear Vibram FiveFingers on my feet.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Swimming the Thames: Swimming Down an English River Doesn't Sound like the Most Exhilarating Experience for a Seasoned Explorer. but at Frog's-Eye Level, Says Alastair Humphreys, the Thames Is a Wild, Beautiful and Adventurous Place
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?